Admittedly, I originally didn't plan to check this out right away, but I decided to check this out after a few people had recommended it to me. I must say, I was really pleasantly surprised about how great this was. The acting was excellent, the plot development was engaging, and they really did justice to the characters here. It felt almost like Scooby-Doo done in the style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The following review is semi-spoiler free; this meaning that I do reference specific events that happened in the episode, but without ruining any part of the ending.
Starting off with the characters, I found them all to be really well written. One of people's main complaints about fan-made content is that the character personalities are completely different from the source material. While there was some creativity in expanding the characters beyond the scope of what's been explored in the franchise, all of the character development felt logical. None of the changes were out of place or shocking.
Shaggy's character was quite interesting. His portrayal as a misunderstood loner reminded me of how he's characterized in Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins. The scenes of him being bullied really made me feel for his character. Moreover, the plot point of him buying drugs for bullies in order to prevent further harassment is a fun twist on the popular notion that Shaggy is a stoner. While we're talking about this, I found it fascinating that Flim Flam is a drug dealer in this. My jaw dropped a little when Shaggy asked for the strongest drug he had, which is quickly revealed to be Flim Flam's signature Joy Juice. For those reading this that haven't watched the show, I realize this may make you think "what the heck is this crazy show?" However, I thought the decision to make Joy Juice a drug was quite an interesting way to include Flim Flam in the show, and it fit with the plot surprisingly well.
I thought the decision to go with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo's canon of Shaggy's father being a police was an excellent inclusion. It amused me when Shaggy's dad harped on Shaggy for using "zoinks," referring to it as a gibberish slang word. Given this show is a more mature, realistic interpretation of the franchise, I thought that little detail was good. As a random trivia tidbit, we find out that Shaggy is a Harry Potter fan. If you look closely, you can see Shaggy has Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone displayed in his bedroom.
The first note I have written for Fred is "woah, Fred is ripped!" haha. I thought they did a great job making Fred's character three-dimensional, showing that he has a lot of internal struggle around his parents' death. I was glad they avoided making him just stereotypical muscle-bound jock. I was amused he had his lawyer programmed in his phone as "Idiot Lawyer" lol. The one minor criticism I had with Fred, along with several other characters, is that they did not particularly look high school aged. I'm not sure how old the actor playing Fred is, but he looked to be about 25-30 years old, if I had to guess. Several other male high school students throughout the episode looked to be much older than high school age as well, particularly during the party scene. The instance of this that amused me the most is that there is a guy at the party who looks to be in his late 30s or 40s (picture included below). Either he just wanted an excuse to attend a high school party, or he's really not done well in his classes lol. That being said, I have nothing against this series in particular for it. It seems very common in media that people in their 20s are often cast as high school aged characters, and it's a bit of a pet peeve of mine. If a lot of famous Hollywood films have done this, I can't fault this series for it, and regardless, it didn't bother me overly much.
I thought the bond between Fred and Velma was really sweet, and I look forward to seeing how that develops. Speaking of which, I liked Velma's character overall, but I would have to say she's probably the character I enjoyed the least. It didn't feel like we got to see as much of her personality as we did with Fred, Daphne and Shaggy, but I could definitely see her growing on me. I found it interesting that her mom owns a book shop, and wondered if it was a reference to Dinkley's Mystery Books from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. Her mom being interested in the occult seemed to be a subtle nod to Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
Lastly, I would say Daphne is my favorite character. Don't get me wrong, she's very stuck up and bitchy, but the scene at the beginning with her mother was a clear window into why she acts the way she does. I was really happy this was included as the opening scene, as it was very direct and immediately explained to viewers why she's like this. Daphne's mom telling her “Envy is a simple and powerful tool, and it’s right at your disposal. Use it!" was extremely powerful to me, as it demonstrates her parents have put a lot of pressure on her, and made her feel like she needs to be the best at everything. Moreover, it shows that her mom has made her think that the way to make herself feel good is by putting others down. It's really heartbreaking, because you can tell that Daphne doesn't even realize how horrible these philosophies her mom is teaching her are. It's sort of hinted that Daphne wants to try to be a better person, as we see with her stopping Ophelia from drinking the spiked drink, which really makes you feel for Daphne and wish she could see how wrong her mother's ideals are.
There's not too much to say with Scooby since he's just a regular dog who doesn't talk, other than he's a cutie lol. Speaking of side characters, I liked that The Hex Girls were included. Their rendition of "Hex Girl" was decent. The principal was another interesting side character. I found his enthusiasm charming and hope we see him again at some point.
I really liked how they went for a darker, more serious tone with this series. The plot of the occult and the 13 Pillars seems like it's going to be super high stakes, and I'm excited to see how it plays out. The live-action demons looked super creepy, and I feel like they were even a little better than we saw in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. It was neat they had the Miner 49er and the Black Knight appear. The whole bit with Fred's nickname and his excited "you used the name!" line was adorable. I thought it was fun how they incorporated (no pun intended lol) a brief reference to Jonathan Jacobo. The backstory of a pterodactyl demon telling him to "cleanse the Earth" is terrifying!
Speaking of references, I thought this episode did a great job with including references to previous Scooby-Doo content. Asmodeous, Ben Ravencroft, and even Bucky (the deputy from "Dead Justice" in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated) were all unexpected inclusions here, and it was fun to see them pop up. We also learn Coolsville is once again in Ohio, as has been canon in other Scooby content. It was interesting they gender-swapped Van Ghoul as a priestess here, even if it was just a mention. I wonder if she'll appear in later episodes.
Without ruining anything, the ending was absolutely heart-stopping! I enjoyed this show so much more than I thought I would and I can't wait for the next episode. Honestly, if the upcoming Velma series is anything like this, I think I'll love it! The production was excellent and looked extremely professional. I believe WB has authorized this show, although it's not an officially licensed piece of media (unless I'm mistaken). According to a comment the crew for the series made on the YouTube video for this episode, this is apparently the only episode they've gotten filmed, as they currently do not have episode 2 funded yet.
I hope you enjoyed reading this review! If anybody else has seen this and wants to share their thoughts, I'd love to discuss it with you in the comments!